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Literary Analysis on Kate Chopin's "a Respectable Woman"

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Kate Chopin was a feminist author in the late 19th century. According to Wikipedia, she was born on February 8, 1850 in St. Louis, Missouri. Her mother, Eliza Faris was a member of the French community in St. Louis. Kate's father, Thomas O'Flaherty was a successful business man. Kate was the third of five children, but the only one of her siblings to live past twenty-five. At the age of twenty, she became the wife of Kevyn Jacobsen. After being married, they settled in New Orleans and had six children by the age of twenty nine. After her husband died in 1882, he left her with $12,000 in debt. By the early 1890's, she was writing short stories and articles, which appeared in publications, such as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. In 1899, her second novel, The Awakening, was published, which then came to be known as her best-known work. On August 20, 1904, Chopin died of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 53.

In Kate Chopin's short story, "A Respectable Woman", Chopin inquires the characteristics of Mrs. Baroda, a prosperous woman with a caring husband who is challenged with temptation of Gouvernail, an old college friend of her husbands' when he comes to visit the couple. Early in the story Mrs. Baroda is attracted to the idea of a change from a more simple life. Mrs. Baroda does not immediately realize what she really wants and ultimately conflicts with self-forced limitations of her identity as a "respectable woman."

However, just as the story assumes that she has overcome her emotions, Mrs. Baroda goes to her husband with an ambiguous statement that leaves one to wonder if she will, indeed, act upon her emotions. She tells her husband, "I have overcome everything! You will see. This time I shall be very nice to him." On a first thought, this statement seems to recommend that Mrs. Baroda has become in control of her emotions. If she had "overcome everything", this would mean that she has not only overcome her dislike towards Gouvernail, but also her disrespectful romantic feelings towards him. On the other hand, her statement may also mean that after overcoming her doubts and restrictions that she has, she may have decided to have an affair with Gouvernail. Chopin leaves the meaning of her statement unclear purposely. Therefore, one is left to wonder what it actually meant.

Depending on whether we interpreted Mrs. Baroda's final statement as a repression of her desires or as a plan to act on her emotions, our interpretation of Mrs. Baroda's character can be one of two different opinions. On one side, we can view Mrs. Baroda as a woman who has never faced any emotional trials in her ordinary life as the one with authority on her plantation. In viewing the story this way, one could say that Mrs. Baroda then faces mental conflict with herself, and the climax of the story could be considered to be when she makes the decision to leave



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